You can read a lot into the way companies prepare and present their entries to the Food Manufacture Excellence Awards (FMEA). Some are short, sharp and straight down to the data: revenues up by 'x', overall equipment effectiveness up to 'y'. Others have clearly been drafted by external PR consultants, with more or less input from their clients. These entries tend to gush about the latest product launches and ad campaigns, with barely a nod to the folks in manufacturing.
But every now and again there's an entry like Ginsters'. The data is there: labour % versus gross manufactured sales; raw materials usage variance versus manufactured sales. So too is the marketing info: objectives and positioning statement for the new Deli Bakes products; trade sales presenters for the entire sandwich and savouries range.
But the first words in the detailed submission by Ray Hanly, production director at Ginsters' Callington, Cornwall, plant, are these: "The quality and attitude of Ginsters' staff have been recognised as a key competitive advantage by the business, customers and visitors alike."
And then Hanly gets straight into the detail of how Ginsters has been seeking to strengthen its teams at all levels of the organisation.
New appointments to the production management team and a simplification of the structure promise to add strength-in-depth to the team seven days a week.
A philosophy of mentoring, coaching and challenging has been adopted by the manufacturing managers. Alongside the bakery team, new heads of marketing, commercial and van sales have been recruited.
Greater stability in the bakery has also seen improved performance from many teams. For example, the engineering team is now particularly strong, as demonstrated by the "real inroads" being made to unplanned downtime -- down 45% -- and the number, quality and variety of projects being managed in-house.
What's more, two of the major multiples will now be sharing Ginsters' best practices with its direct competitors.
And this is just the top-level stuff. A portfolio of evidence covering internal reorganisation, performance improvements, partnerships with suppliers, automation and other capital projects, brand strategy and communications -- internal as well as external -- show the sheer energy that is currently buzzing around inside this Samworth Bros subsidiary.
You couldn't find a much better model of how to impress a judging panel -- and the FMEA judges are not easily impressed. Alongside editor Rick Pendrous this year were three men with a wealth of experience at the coalface of food and drink production, marketing and retail.
Paul Wilkinson is chairman of the Food and Drink Sector Skills Council, Improve, and chairman of Big Bear, the owner of Fox's Confectionery. He has built up a portfolio of other interests across the food industry after seven years as executive chair of RHM, and combines blue-chip manufacturing experience with commercial rigour.
Ian Weare is a consultant with Suiko-WCS, where he has managed business improvement and total asset management projects in a wide variety of business sectors.
And new to the panel this year was Graham Spaul, technical and quality team manager for chilled food and bakery at Asda. Spaul -- a one-time Northern Foods graduate trainee -- has held new product development (NPD), quality and technical roles across virtually all grocery categories.
Their verdict on Ginsters? "It measures itself well, understands where it has made errors and puts them right," said one, adding: "It has innovated in areas where you wouldn't think of innovating." "I thought it was a cracking entry," said another. "They've really ticked all the boxes."
Although people management is a key focus for Ginsters, this feeds through into progress across the board. A more focused production and technical team is helping Ginsters address raw material and process issues. And as shopfloor skills have improved, for example, operators have been brought into capital projects at an earlier stage to encourage full buy-in.
Capital expenditure this year will hit £4.1m, and key challenges for 2004-5 will be maximising capacity while releasing bottlenecks in the bakery. Average throughput is up from 2.25m units a week in 2003 to 3m this year, and the target for 2005 is 3.2m units.
It's the kind of steady progress, accompanied by improvements across the full range of measures, that was visible to a degree across all this year's shortlisted companies and category winners.
Despite the mounting pressures on the industry -- from higher raw material costs, from regulation, from retail price-cutting, and from the mounting concerns about healthy diets -- more companies than ever recognise the need for continuous improvement.
- Mick Whitworth is a contributing editor to Food Manufacture and chairs the judging of the FMEA
Category: Company of the Year
Shortlisted: Mr Bagel's. Bells of Lazonby, Memory Lane Cakes